Friday, February 20, 2015

Ricardo Cortez

This gent has been popping up everywhere it seems! A month or two ago I watched Torrent on TCM and during Robert Osborne's intro he mentioned that Ricardo Cortez had actually been born Jacob Krantz and I remember letting out a loud, "WHAT?!" I had heard of Cortez before, but always assumed he was this gorgeous Latino actor and that Ricardo Cortez was his real name. That seriously blew my mind so much, I kept saying, "Jacob. Krantz." out loud until it somewhat settled in.

Then he came back into the picture again when I was doing research on Alma Rubens and not a day later he was in the movie I was watching (Torch Singer). I get the point, Ricardo! I will spotlight dreamy, dreamy man.

Ricardo Cortez was born Jacob Krantz on September 19, 1900 in New York City.

Now, I tried and I tried but I could not pinpoint Ricardo's parents names. I found a couple of records and names that could possible be right, but I didn't want to throw names out that I am not 100% sure about. Hell, I'm not even 90% sure. 

What I DO know about his family life is that his father was a very blonde Hungarian (a description Ricardo gave to a magazine) who ran the family clothing store and passed away when Ricardo was 16 years old. Ricardo's mother's maiden name was Lefcowitz and she was an Austrian Jew. As far as siblings, he had a younger brother named Stanislaus who later worked as a cinematographer in Hollywood under the name 'Stanley Cortez.' He also had a sister that passed away a few weeks after their father.

Ricardo stated once to a film magazine that he always wanted to be an actor, but that doesn't seem to have been his main focus growing up. During his teen years he spent most of his time working as a stockbroker on Wall Street, fighting in amateur boxing, and doing a bit of stage acting. 

When he was 16 years old, he had the idea to go to the office of Marshal Neilan and try to get a role in an upcoming picture. He impressed the studio enough and was offered a role! Ricardo went back home, script in hand, excited to tell his family the great news and instead he came home to his father laying sick in bed. He passed away three days later and as stated before, Ricardo's sister passed away three weeks later. Ricardo was so devastated at the loss of his family members that he didn't go back to the city to work on the picture and didn't do any acting for the next few months. 

When Ricardo came out of his mourning period, he came out swinging! He decided he was going to put caution to the wind, move out to Hollywood and try and get into pictures through the head honcho out there, Jesse Lasky. 

Ricardo's dark good looks made an impact on Lasky who saw a chance to cash in on the Latin Lover craze that was taking film fans by storm. However, Jacob Krantz didn't really have the same ring to is as Rudolph Valentino or Ramon Novarro, so Lasky knew he had to think of a new name for his new find. So, who thought up the new name? Jacob Krantz? No. Jesse Lasky? Nope! In fact, 'Ricardo Cortez' was the brainchild of two of Lasky's secretaries! I hope they got a raise!

His first screen credit was in the 1923 film, Sixty Cents an Hour.

Ricardo's biggest silent hit was in 1926's Torrent with Greta Garbo. He also played leading man to Betty Bronson, Claire Windsor, and Joan Crawford. He was quite popular, but never really achieved the Valentino-esque status that the studios wanted. Ricardo was fine with this because he never thought he was in the same caliber as Valentino. His lack of stardom mainly was due to the fact that he was given lackluster scripts and his characters didn't make a big enough impact to be memorable. With the way the film industry was churning out pictures back then, it really isn't surprising. 

While he was one of the few silent stars that was lucky enough to make it to the talkies, his star power didn't rise there either. His New York accent made it very clear that he wasn't a dashing Latino Lover from Spain and so he was relegated to playing mainly villains and womanizing cads. 

His best known talkie feature role was as Sam Spade in the 1931 pre-code adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. After this film, his career started to go downhill and he appeared mainly in B movies. From 1939 until 1940, he tried his hand at directing and put his name to seven films. None of the films were anything spectacular but one of them, 1939's Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence, was the film debut of Glenn Ford.

His last film was in 1958's The Last Hurrah with Spencer Tracy. He did appear on an episode of Bonanza in 1960 and that would be his last official acting job.

After retiring from acting, Ricardo went back to work as a stockbroker on Wall Street. I wouldn't mind having him giving me some insider trading!

Ricardo Cortez passed away on April 28 (my birthday!), 1977 in New York City.

He was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Ricardo was married three times. His first, and most high profile marriage was to Alma Rubens in 1926. After the two were wed, they traveled the vaudeville circuit with their own two person act. It was while out on their tour that they decided to separate and they did so once they returned home. They briefly reunited around 1930 when Ricardo and Alma's mother had Alma admitted to a sanitarium to try and help her with her drug addiction. Ricardo was a very dutiful husband (at least in public) and was by his wife's bed side as often as he could be. Unfortunately, they kept becoming more and more estranged until finally deciding to separate again. Alma reportedly had filed divorce papers, but she passed away in 1931 before they could be legalized. Ricardo wasn't even aware that his estranged wife was deathly ill at this time and actually found out about her death by reading it in a newspaper. Such a sad story, from both sides. I should also note that I read Alma was actually the one who spilled the beans on Ricardo Krantz actually being a Jew from New York, but I am not sure if that is totally the case. 

Ricardo and Alma
His second marriage was to New York socialite (and possible former Ziegfeld Girl) Christine Coniff Lee in 1934. The couple separated in 1939 and Ricardo told the press that the reason behind the separation was because his career kept him in California and his wife wanted to live in New York. However, when Christine filed divorce papers she cited extreme cruelty as the reason for the split. Sadly, Christine passed away a little over a year later in a fire caused by a still burning cigarette she dropped after falling asleep. 

Christine Coniff Lee and Ricardo

I know next to nothing about his third marriage to Margaret Belle. All I know is that they were married in 1950 and remained married until his death. 

Besides acting, boxing, and playing the market, Ricardo also enjoyed hunting, fishing, and horseback riding. In fact, his frequent costar, Mary Astor was one of his favorite riding companions. He also managed to squeeze in a daily workout at the gym located on the RKO studio lot. 

"Ricardo's popularity is something many more meteoric stars can envy. Quietly, deftly, he handles the parts given him and each picture shows him to have greater polish and charm." ~~ Modern Screen, May 1935.

1 comment:

  1. I always wanted to know more about him since I had seen a picture still of him and Garbo in their film "The Torrent" which I still have not seen. I had heard that he was not Latin at all but I thought he was German so Interesting that his blood line seems to be Jewish, Austrian, Hungarian and who knows what else. Glad his last marriage seemed to be a happier one